But as I watched Governor Rick Scott advise Floridians to evacuate in the face of the fury of Hurricane Irma, I wondered: Where are climate change deniers supposed to go?
Should they evacuate to Houston, where the victims of Katrina evacuated 12 years ago? No, it is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.
Should they evacuate to Rosyln, Washington, a beautiful and welcoming tourist destination in my home state? No. As I write this, Roslyn is under a Level 2 evacuation order in the face of the horrendous 26,000-acre Jolly Mountain fire.
Should the Irma evacuees flee to Idaho, a hotbed of climate denial? No, almost the entire state is blanketed by threats of forest fires.
How about being creative, and evacuating eastward, to the island paradise of Barbuda? No, it is already battered and now preparing for the next of the battering rams of an enraged atmosphere, Hurricane Jose.
Climate change deniers are running out of places to hide ― places to hide from hurricanes, places to hide from forest fires, and places to hide from scientific truth. Yet this did not stop Donald Trump’s administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, from taking time to proclaim: “To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm vs. helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced.”
Unfortunately for the Trump administration, talking about climate change is always “misplaced.” But the sad and dangerous fact is that climate change is altering our climate, our weather and our future. These changes leave us precious little time in the future when climate change is not inflicting pain on someone, somewhere.
It is not mutually exclusive to care for and respond to those being most impacted by these disasters and at the same time hear the clarion call to take action that will keep these disasters from becoming even worse. It is why we will band together to do all we can for Texas, and why we will be there for all Floridians, even those like Rush Limbaugh who deny the clear science that climate change exposes us to increased risk of giant precipitation events, rising sea levels, and lethal forest fires.
The reality is that the current administration never wants to address either the science, or the public health, or the economics of climate change. They can run, but they cannot hide from Mother Nature.
Simply piling sandbags and nailing up plywood over the windows is not enough. Simply collecting millions in private donations and giving billions from the federal government is not enough. Simply being moved by the incredible display of neighbors helping neighbors, strangers putting their lives on the line for others and emergency responders leaving their own families to be there for the people they serve is not enough.
Now is precisely the time for a national commitment, when the winds are blowing and fires are burning. What we’re starting to see is beyond the normal bounds of mere weather changes.
So what does it mean to run toward the storm and not away from it? It means that when we run for office, defeating climate change should be an absolute top priority. It means that we will call out the climate denial of our rivals, not as some peripheral and modest comment but a fundamental flaw that should disqualify candidates from public office. It means that we will build our efforts around fighting climate change, rather than appending it to our thoughts and plans.
That passion must become an animating force in all we do. It must extend beyond parlor room debate. We can no longer look at climate change as a second-tier issue, relegated to something confined to the environmental community. It must drive our policy and our politics in every realm and in every constituency and in every debate. In the next presidential debate it must be the defining topic, not one ignored or sidelined, and if the moderators don’t ask about it, candidates must insert it aggressively, repeatedly and effectively.
The floods and fires are not a time just for sorrow, they must be a time for action. We must seize this moment to help the victims of these storms, and we must seize this moment to take action on climate change.
It is a small blue planet, but it is the only one we have.